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SLO County seniors combat isolation with help from volunteers, match program

Posted at 9:21 AM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 13:46:41-04

Many people are feeling lonely due to the coronavirus restrictions but a program designed for San Luis Obispo County seniors aims to help the county's most isolated adults feel connected.

Wilshire Health and Community Services connects seniors with a volunteer, who can not only help the elder with necessary errands but socialize with them.

"If you can't get access to groceries right now or access to medication, that's part of staying alive and staying healthy," Wilshire Health and Community Services Marketing and Outreach Coordinator Kelly Donohue said.

It's not just a matter of physical health but mental wellness. Volunteers spend time talking and visiting with seniors who may otherwise be alone.

"They are alone and don't get social connection," Donohue said. "They tend to be the ones that are isolated the most."

With the threat of the coronavirus high, the risk of feeling isolated is worse now than ever for vulnerable seniors like Jeff Taylor, whose COPD makes him especially high risk for COVID-19 complications.

"I'm not worried about the virus at all, I pretty much have been naturally isolated here in my apartment," Taylor, who lives in Grover Beach, said.

Taylor is thankful that WIlshire connected him with a kind volunteer, who he only remembers as Jessica.

"I've got long term loss of a short term memory," Taylor joked.

Though he may not remember her last name, Taylor can't forget the many ways Jessica not only keeps him company but helps with his errands.

"She's driven me to doctor's appointments," Taylor said. "She's a wonder, a real treasure."

Wilshire clients, like Taylor, usually find comfort in being connected with someone who stops by to play cards or chess, drives them to the grocery store and doctors appointments, or simply takes the time to chat on the phone.

Now, volunteers, too, must maintain their distance because of the highly contagious virus.

But according to Donohue, those volunteers are still showing they care with flowers, cards, and grocery deliveries for their seniors.

"Most of us, we can't really envision what it would be like not to see friends or get groceries but for these people it's a reality," Donohue said. "And (this program is) so meaningful for them."

Volunteers are matched with seniors based on the compatibility of their personalities, as well as the specific needs of the senior.

Donohue said volunteers often experience just as much gratification from the match as the senior they are partnered with.

Wilshire is actively looking for volunteers to help SLO County seniors. All of Wilshire's services are free of charge.

According to Donohue, Wilshire currently has 22 counselors serving 77 clients for Senior Peer Counseling.

There are 70 Caring Callers clients matched to volunteers, who make calls to the senior and stop by for visits.

And over 200 seniors in Wilshire's Good Neighbor Program are matched with 67 volunteers who complete about 125 requests such as grocery pickups and rides to the doctor's office each month.